California lifts regional stay-at-home order amid 'positive signs' of slower spread

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California said Monday it is lifting a regional order that called on residents to stay home except for "essential activities" as the state cited "positive signs" about the spread of COVID-19.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has long been one of the most hawkish state executives on pandemic restrictions. He imposed the first statewide shutdown in March. Newsom instituted this more recent regional stay-at-home order in early December before extending it in late December.

"California is slowly starting to emerge from the most dangerous surge of this pandemic yet, which is the light at the end of the tunnel we’ve been hoping for," state Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said in a statement. "Seven weeks ago, our hospitals and front-line medical workers were stretched to their limits, but Californians heard the urgent message to stay home when possible and our surge after the December holidays did not overwhelm the health care system to the degree we had feared."

In this Friday, May 22, 2020, file photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, Calif. California on Monday lifted its regional stay-at-home order which has been in place since December. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, Pool, File)

FOX 5 reported earlier Monday that Newsom was expected to lift the stay-at-home order.

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According to a release by the California Department of Public Health, "nearly all" of the regions that were previously under a stay-at-home order will return to the state's tier system for coronavirus restrictions in the most severe "purple" tier. In that tier, "most indoor businesses are closed," but places of worship and many outdoor businesses may open with modifications.

Hair salons, tattoo parlors, nail salons and other similar places may also open with modifications in the purple tier.

The move comes as the U.S. is aiming to ramp up its vaccine distribution with the goal of getting the country back to normal potentially by later this year. Meanwhile, the threat of new coronavirus strains, which may be more transmissible, loom.

"Californians heard the urgent message to stay home as much as possible and accepted that challenge to slow the surge and save lives," California Department of Public Health Director Tomas Aragon said. "Together, we changed our activities knowing our short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term gains. COVID-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it's important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner."

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Newsom has been highly criticized for his strict handling of the pandemic, and it has been a significant contributor to efforts to trigger a recall election. The recall effort is nearing the number of signatures it will need to gather to force a recall election, which could be the best hope Republicans would have of winning a statewide election in the deep-blue state.

"It's absolutely gaining traction. We're getting petitions from not only Republicans but from Democrats and undependents," John Cox, Newsom's 2018 Republican challenger, who recently launched an exploratory committee to challenge the governor again in 2022, told Fox News last week. "This has just gone on too long -- the mismanagement that has accompanied this pandemic."

Newsom and California have also been the subject of lawsuits from business owners and parents over the state's closures of businesses and in-person dining.

Fox News' David Aaro and Audrey Conklin contributed to this report.

Tyler Olson Fox News